Camp Cosmic is a small camping music festival near Berlin in the last weekend of July. As If. No Way! went last year to make a video and write this article, and we hope you can get a sense of why we’re going again this year:
Camp Cosmic video by Exhale Britney
Music: Spencer David Group – ‘I’m a Man‘
I had a tremendous feeling of awe and wonder, seated on the space shuttle bus riding out of Camp Cosmic. It’s taken me months to write this article, and a part of that was finding the words to document not just what happened, but also what was so special about it.
My audio recorder is full of auspicious moments, music in the background matching my interviewees’ thoughts and feelings. I asked someone, on the Sunday, where would you go if it was the end of the world?
“Nowhere. This is perfect.”
Right then, as if on a magical cue, a disco breakdown, violins build to a euphoric crescendo.
This kept occuring. I can’t believe how perfect the moments were, still are, etched into an SD card – it seems destined, ordained, a cosmic coincidence hinting at a higher pattern, like planets coming into alignment, stars forming constellations… I’ll never look at shuttle buses the same way again – now they look to me like space shuttles, ready to take passengers to another planet, deep into the reaches of stellar, sparkling space.
But we don’t have to leave this planet to find aliens, or to feel alien, to get naked in another dimension of love and art and music and freedom. Any search for higher meaning led back to the basics, the answer being the simple joy of celebrating life in a field and feeling free.
Albion: “How it started in Camp Cosmic, I was in a big mansion, in a small village where my family, my wife’s mother lives… I get a phone call from Yuki, she said that I would like you to play at my 40th year anniversary. We can’t pay you anything, but promise you’re going to have a good time. There was a voice inside me: OK, I’ll do it for the adventure.”
“One day, 2 months later, I take a commuter train to the last stop, and step out – and there’s a military vehicle, like a Panzerwagen but without the cannon. It’s called The Puppy, a Swedish military vehicle. The people around the vehicle were mostly young, 21, 23, crusty kind of punky, hadn’t found their style yet… but I knew they were going to be graffiti people because it’s Yuki’s friends. We take off over this vehicle, on this road that’s not built yet. When you build a road you start with big rocks, and you drive over it for 20 years, and its going to get grainy so you can put asphalt over it. And we end up in a clearing in the forest, and my first impression of this place was: it’s a crusty camp. It looked pretty dodgy, like someone had a pitbull terrier, someone with dreadlocks… fireplace, where people just throw everything they have in the middle and they sit on these… But I had a friend there, and I knew she had pretty good taste, we’d been traveling together, around festivals. The festivals we’d been to had all the elements, but not the music. I’d always wanted to play to freaks like that, but I didn’t… When I had the music, I didn’t have the people.”
“And we walk up a hill, and we come up to another clearing in the forest, and there’s a green laser, lighting up the clearing in the room, with an open roof, just the stars, and I’m like ‘I found the best dance club in the world, now I have to invite all my people here! It’s going to take a while… But I found a fixed point.'”
“And I played whatever I felt like, and the first thing that happened was that one of the turntables broke down so I had one turntable, and I put on just my favourite favourite tracks, for the people who were not related to this music at all, graffiti people as I said, and after every song people clapped and said ‘Play faster! Mix faster!’ and I was getting really stressed, and at one point I play this track, ‘Jungle People‘ and the whole forest comes alive, all these worker people, bare feet, dreadlocks, and ‘We Are Jungle People’… and then it ended, and it was so big for me, this experience, so I didn’t want to ask if I could be there again, but Yuki said I could be there, the next year, though I hadn’t had the courage to ask, to risk getting a no. The first time was so perfect. I felt there were so many possibilities.”
“I was there with Carolina, and we had arranged discos together…so we talked about this Camp Cosmic, and why we called it Camp Cosmic – why we called it that, we wanted it to sound a little less American English – like Cosmic Camp you would say, but we wanted it to sound a bit Italian maybe like Camp-Cos-Mic!”
“We hadn’t outlined the concept yet, we were just playing around with the concept… We had talked about making a door somewhere, not related to the festival, just an installation where people are like: ‘What? A door? Where does this lead to?’”
“One year later, it was my ex-wife’s 40th year anniversary…”
AS IF: “It’s not just one birthday party, it’s a succession!”
“I told her – I’ll make you a birthday party if I can call it Camp Cosmic. Go for it! So we loaded a truck full of equipment, drove to there, set it up, we had a ring of torches around the dancefloor, and we had a white tarpaulin as a roof, and we had white pyramids… we decorated it more and more.
“The first place we had it, was magical – I think it was a pre-historic burial site or gathering point even. And everybody felt this energy, and at Camp Cosmic stage, at one point, the last year there, we had built a hole… we had the whole world in front of us, and we were just a galaxy, and there were two other galaxies, planetary systems, who also had their own music, and I knew that if people leave the Camp Cosmic stage, say because they’re thirsty, then they’re going to get sucked in by gravitation to one of the other stages, and end up there! And not even know why! So I told people – we have to bring water! I walked around giving people water!”
“The first year, I invited SpAceLex, who has a stage now, the Mond stage – but he didn’t show up, it was just me, Carolina, and the next year maybe 12 people came from across the world, from around Europe… and then it just grew each year. We didn’t invite people, it just grew organically, it crystallised, we didn’t have a script, we made it up as we went. So now we’re here.”
“The way I see music, I don’t want to hype anything. Then it gets trendy, and then it gets out of fashion again. I just want to show that I’ve found my place and I’m not moving. That’s why I never give out tracks when I play, I don’t want to exploit it anymore. I’ve found my forest, and no colonialists can come and exploit my intellectual property! I’m kind of self-protective in that I didn’t want more exposure than I needed. I just felt like my artistic direction, each step should be something voluntary. I’ve been shying away a bit – enough, and still doing this. And it’s just developed, naturally, the whole scene, years and years of work, everybody, and it’s a celebration, a gathering of the tribes, a celebration of humanity, and exploring of the senses.”
“An earlier year the third or fourth year, when there were 12 different nationalities on the stage, we started to play Disco with our own folk-music [rather than techno] touch, so we were dancing like a folk dance from Belgium, and we were all arm in arm, and playing for each other. Like the United Nations of Disco! The biggest peace manifestation, the biggest peace organisation of music, you could say, that unite the countries in Europe… because we are all connected a lot, and I love to know all the different shades of mentality and culture and to recognise not only on record but in people the different shades and flavours of the scene and the culture that is in Europe. To discover that.”
“At Camp Cosmic, we dance together, we dance with each other, we invent new dances or we have memorised old dances…”
AS IF: When you say it’s something you’ve found for yourself, and you don’t want to be invaded and exploited – It’s still very nice of you to invite people and to share it.
“It’s like I found a cake in the forest, and I had to make the decision – am I going to have all the cake by myself, and play every year being the only act at Camp Cosmic, play 3 days in a row, or should I invite my friends, have a party with the people I like the most, that deserve to hear this! They were my best dancefloor, so obviously they should be involved with playing, and I gathered this group of DJs who deserved more exposure, who were always fighting in the shade of something more commercial, in their hometowns… I’d already been visiting them, and they were all getting a bit old, been doing this for so long, and in some cities, no people were showing up and they still continues and fighting on, doing their thing… all of us deserve to have an audience that could enjoy what they were doing, there’s an audience for this, and we’ll do it. I just had to ask, and people asked me too… Or I don’t even ask, they just come and know.”
AS IF: “For the new people coming to Camp Cosmic, what is it that you hope they can experience?”
“I hope they will let go a bit of their prejudice, and take it in, because music is a fantastic medium that is important… though its not only music… I think what I’m trying to captivate, is the setting from my childhood, from the 70s, because I know how people had it back then, as a kid I experienced some of the moments back then and I felt this humanity, was kind of… I was missing this relaxed, this mood we’re in, we’re just hanging out, there’s a bit of nature, a bit to discover, and we use the right side of our brain a little. In the Western world, we’re very used to using the left side of the brain, being logical, and all the creative world, it’s booming, but its all very tame still, within the boundaries, and this is outside of the boundaries. It’s a festival of the senses, also. I brought perfume from my ex-wife: Cosmoss, the special Camp Cosmic 2017 perfume.”
We spent some time smelling, describing, squirting the perfume, and hearing the story of it, drifting gently on the notes of smell and sound, balearic beats matching the earthy relaxing scent. Albion is a character as mysterious as the cosmos and as honest as disco.
Video by Exhale Britney
AS IF: “The depth of history and culture to be explored here… it’s something unique in its own right, integral and honest. Even the rhetoric behind it, the blurbs for the DJs who describe a challenging set, a safari ride, don’t expect this to be easy… conceptual journeys and trips…”
Albion: “This is no picnic, as the old Indian says in the Castanega novel. I wrote a description of where Camp Cosmic is at, I wanted people to be in the same mindset, what we’re doing, that we all know what we are doing, where it comes from, and its the fruit of many years. 30 years ago I started dreaming about young people walking hand in hand from a festival somewhere in Italy, and I could see it before me, and I was in Iceland and I saw the landscape from a hill, 1000 meters of mountain, and I thought I wish I could invite all my friends here!”
So what did we hear? To list in genres gets us a wild string of words:
But let’s just say mostly disco and most definitely amazing music.
I had a good chat with Cover, a wiz-DJ from Dresden, who had played his third year at Camp Cosmic, and is back this year, on why as a DJ, this is the best festival for music:
Cover: “Here its like – I can just go to sleep, sleep a few hours, I know I will miss some really good stuff, at both stages – its always, you can just go there and it will be good. Just go there and it will be good! It doesn’t matter, you know. It’s a hard decision all the time where to be here – oh shit, I gotta see this! But also this!”
Cover: “It’s a good thing, because many people also don’t know anybody who’s playing here. There’s no big names, in some certain circles and scenes, they are big names – the people who really dig deep. Collectors, DJs, not big names, festival or club names, but people who are deep into the music. It’s people who maybe don’t go to other festivals, lazy fucks, artists, freaks – people who don’t sit at their laptops clicking ‘Buy’”.
“It’s like a meetup of music heads. Without arrogance – but it’s really special music, not commercial at all, it’s really forgotten music, music that didn’t get its audience at its time, and maybe its just ready now, to get the attention it deserves, and these guys dig it out, maybe its from the 70s, or the 90s, doesn’t matter. It’s just music that didn’t get the attention, or was ahead of its time. First time I went, I barely knew any name from the lineup, but there’s many many great great DJs that you will learn, and follow after. There are people I see here only once a year, but who are from everywhere.”
“[This year], no idea [what I could prepare for a set]. I packed pretty wild – prepared for any kind of atmosphere, mood. It’s hard to pin it down – also it crosses genres… It’s not about a certain tempo… it’s a certain feeling that the music transports.”
Maybe that’s the cosmic sound – music that falls through the cracks. If you find it and love it, you’ll find a core of people attached by an invisible mesh and brought together for one weekend in July.
This is curated by Albion on the Cosmic Stage: digger-DJs spinning delicious treasures from history to match any mood of the day: “It’s the same DJs every year who come back, and we check up what has happened since last time, and we try to check up on each other and visit each other, and somebody has gone into maybe early Goa Trance and I think… OK, let’s see how that fits in! And everybody is constantly changing. That’s what you forget with DJs, you always think they are the same, but we are all finding our vibe more and more – crystallizing. We’re about 25 people. We’re basically good friends, more than the exchange of music.”
While Alexander Arpeggio aka. SpAceLex has a separate Mond Stage, featuring live acts and DJs with more electronic directions, a more electronic punk/post-punk stage cemented its sound contrasting with the the sunny glory across the way. It’s all contemporary artists, and they’re making new music – with a vibe that “is close to the family tree”, as Albion comments.
Albion: “We have inventive musicians on one stage and we have also some DJs evolving this thing that we’re building up in a different way and playing more psychedelia straight-up, on the Camp Cosmic stage, and everybody has built up their own sound, and it’s something that goes years back – some already before they came, and some have found their sound during Camp Cosmic, which I can count myself as one of those, who found their sound by actually being here.”
The special place the festival holds in the hearts of DJs (many returning this year) and organizers is evident in their occasional worry about the authenticity and purity of the festival. I don’t mean snobbery, chin-stroking, glee at being ‘different’ – rather there were moments of anxious love poking through the raucous celebration, as if even those involved were worried this was too good to be true. After the festival, I got a message from Tiney, who DJ’ed a strong daytime set of loving funky tunes:
Tiney: “If you ask for my opinion… I see CC as a real treasure where people with a special dedication towards music, i.e. Disco, gather once a year like a small family that we are. [Last] year, the climax has been topped and things got too big, resulting in a decrease of spirit & love. So, the last thing we need is exploitation.”
“Hopefully, we get back to the old numbers and feeling next year or perhaps even skip ’18 completely to cure things. It still was a wonderful happening though…”
This is the 8th year of Camp Cosmic – since Gotland and the first camps, it has grown steadily: 4 years ago, it was maybe 350 people, and two years ago, maybe 500 people, and its like 700 people now, as Cover reckons:
Cover: “The space is at capacity, but its a tricky one on how to limit the size of the festival – selling a fixed number of tickets means an artificial limit, a competition – the audience would change. The festival might need to change location to stay true to itself, and might go to a totally different country in Europe..”
“Lets say it would take place in Hungary, or Spain – I’d go there, because then it would go back to the core.”
So it’s not locked down to a particular place, and people have come for the music, not for the hype…
Camp Cosmic has been in East Germany twice now – last year was the second year it’s been here, near Leipzig. Albion described having “a very good base for us in this part of Europe. But we’re an ambulating festival, so we can move to another country, but there has to be some reason to do it, and right now everything works perfectly here. Maybe we’re not going to be in this spot next year, but I hope we can do it again somewhere in this neighborhood.”
In fact, Camp Cosmic is in a new locale this year, in the same neighbourhood (near Berlin), and a peek at some photos got me excited over the seclusion. Hopefully this year will be building on the strong community, character and history, and also a move back to the cosmic roots, the crusty party, the original door to nowhere and everywhere…
This move back to the woods, and the hidden location, should not be seen as shying away, or putting up walls, or shunning outsiders. I found the crowd and the crew alike to be exceedingly lovely and welcoming, and open to new devotees to the cosmic energy. There’s a nucleus, a tiny international scene, and if you can find it you’ll fit right in.
I had a chat with Ross Alexander, who played the opening set on Friday on the Mond Stage, about this feeling I had:
I think the consensus is clear: go to Camp Cosmic, and bring all the spirit and love you have to give. Hang out with your ears and your heart open, and rip that third eye a new one. Recognize it for what it is, a special little spot created by the people and the music of the moment, recognize how fragile that might be, how rare it might become – and how that makes it all the more magical.
It was so magical, I needed reassurance it was real. I was worried for a moment there, that I might have found some kind of convent of interdimensional travellers, aliens gathered here to romp at the edge of the universe, and that the strange weathered book I had found as a clue on the treasure hunt was a tome with all the answers.
I was spinning out, too much to handle. Who amongst us was real, and who a god descended from Olympus, or had we been transported, this dancefloor flung into another space? A crowd invasion by a group of performers left my sense of reality spinning. A potato was being passed around, and I knew all too well what that could be…
Luckily, the red-and-gold superhero (with lightning bolts, in the picture above) addressed this directly, and a great sense of relief came over me when Captain Incredible Man (Cian Austin Jesus Kinsella, #LordsofStrut) yelled at the crowd:
“This is not a cult! This is not a cult! But if you want to join in – Let’s have a dance!!
It’s all just about having a good time!!”
Phew! Thank the stars. Camp Cosmic just feels too good to be true!